As I am sure you know, SAE recently decided to eliminate the new member program from their fraternity. This move has been critiqued extensively the past few weeks, and people have developed strong opinions on the decision.
Thefraternityadvisor.com reached out recently to Brandon E. Weghorst, Associate Executive Director of Communications for SAE, to answer questions we had on the subject. Brandon graciously took the time to answer our questions and we really appreciate him taking the time to do so.
Here are our questions and answers:
Question: A fraternity’s ritual is supposed to be an experience that shapes the rest of their lives. Is SAE worried about putting people through ritual before they fully understand the commitment and obligation they are taking?
Answer: Although some members have voiced concern over revealing our Ritual entirely too soon, the True Gentleman Experience returns the initiation timeline to what our Founding Fathers originally envisioned. We believe that even with the previous method of initiating members only after their pledge term, our brothers do not truly understand or comprehend our Ritual’s meanings and significance simply by going through our ceremony. Instead, we believe our members only understand their commitment after they have been initiated and active for a number of years. Even our alumni learn impart deeper meanings every time they hear the words to our Initiation Ceremony. In the same way, our members have the ability to protect our Ritual by putting the onus back on recruitment. Only when they believe they understand a prospective member’s values, morals and character should they offer him an invitation to join. If they do, they are protecting the sanctity of our Ritual more than they are currently.
Question: Is SAE worried about eliminating a probationary period for membership? Under your new scenario, new members and brothers do not have the new member period to determine that the fit works for both parties. By granting instant membership, the chapters could be initiating potential problems that are typically weeded out during the new member period. The impact of these problem individuals could be disastrous.
Answer: Sigma Alpha Epsilon believes that the notion of a probationary period does not prove a man’s dedication or worth to the fraternity, nor do we believe that any “weeding out” process is beneficial to either party. In fact, if you had removed the pledge term for many of our members, it would not have made a difference. History has proven two valuable points to us. First, hazing incidents or other violations often happen as a result of poor judgment by members who decide to deviate from our expectations because they are trying to “weed out” or “prove the dedication” of pledges. Also, better recruitment forces our brothers to evaluate a man’s worthiness for membership without having to subject him to any probationary period. Under the new directive, the 96-hour window from bid acceptance to initiation allows both the chapter and the member to reconsider the invitation, if necessary.
Question: How does SAE project this will help individual chapters? Will insurance premiums be lowered? Do you expect a higher caliber student to be interested in SAE due to this change? Will recruitment become easier?
Answer: The True Gentleman Experience shifts our focus from a short educational and endurance period for pledges to a more holistic educational approach. It spreads the education and personal and professional development of our members over the entire collegiate tenure versus a small period of time. It’s not reasonable to think that pledges will learn and retain everything about Sigma Alpha Epsilon from their pledge term and then suddenly become great members. Learning never stops, so our educational programming strives to provide new insight, lessons and development each year of our members’ undergraduate career. Then, as they get closer to graduation, it provides the networking and training necessary for the next chapter of their lives.
There is no guarantee that our insurance premiums will be lowered, but by eliminating the time when many incidents happen, the goal is to mitigate incidents or behaviors by the few for which the majority pay. And, yes, we do expect a higher caliber student to find Sigma Alpha Epsilon lucrative. Studies in higher education show us that there are a number of potential members who never join because they believe they will be hazed or put through some ordeal that jeopardizes their well-being. There are many potential members on campus, but we don’t always see them because they steer clear of the fraternity system based on the stereotypes they’ve learned.
Question: How will this help SAE on a national level? Are there financial and manpower benefits to this change?
Answer: Nothing about this new program is motivated by financial considerations, and no one incident or event led our leadership to enact this major change. Instead, our board of directors considered a number of ideas that would enhance the membership experience for our undergraduates. We are hopeful the True Gentleman Experience can provide the benchmark for redefining what it means to be a fraternity man by eliminating classifications, providing education continuously, fostering the development of leaders, scholars and gentleman; and giving back to our communities since we are part of them. We also believe the new program will engage parents and administrators and alumni who have not been happy with recent incidents that have given SAE a bad public image.
Question: It appears that the hope is this policy will significantly reduce or eliminate hazing that exists in the new member period. Is hazing is a much bigger problem than most Greeks are willing to admit?
Answer: Hazing is an issue that faces not only fraternities and sororities but also other groups, such as the military and sports teams. And we believe that the only way to tackle an issue is to acknowledge the problem and do what we can to confront it. We think that our interfraternal peers understand well that hazing rears its ugly head in our organizations, which is regrettable because we know all of the great things our members do every day that never receive attention. The True Gentleman Experience strives to address many, if not most, of the situations where hazing tends to appear. It will not solve all of our problems, and there’s no guarantee it will prevent any future incidents. But it’s a much stronger and bolder path than our previous model, and we are committed to realigning ourselves to a values-based education.
Question: Does SAE anticipate a struggle with undergraduates who are not willing to let go of traditions that easily? This policy could put the entire new member program underground and eliminate oversight of the university and national headquarters.
Answer: No change is easy, and we do not expect the True Gentleman Experience to be a success overnight. There is always a chance that new issues will arise from a well-intended program, but our leadership’s zero-tolerance policy for actions and behaviors that are inconsistent with our expectations has not changed. As with any fraternity our size, we cannot please all of our members. And while there have been critics and cynics, we have received more overwhelming praise and positive feedback. At the end of the day, we cannot do it alone, though. The national organization can set all the policies it wants, but we certainly have limits on staffing and manpower. This is a team effort, and we need the assistance of our members, alumni and advisers, parents and families and campus administrators to help us make sure the True Gentleman Experience reaches its potential and paves the way for other fraternities to follow suit.
Thanks again to Brandon Weghorst and SAE for taking the time to answer our questions. To learn more about SAE’s decision – check out these resources:
Sigma Alpha Epsilon Announces Historic Change for Membership Experience